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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Series: Anxiety & Worry

A few weeks ago I shared a post on mental health (postpartum depression) and the lack of resources available to mothers. I want to begin by thanking all of the women who reached out to me (both publicly and privately) to share their mental health story. I’m touched by your honesty and inspired by your strength. I’m also saddened to hear how many of you have fallen through the cracks of our health care system. As we wait for our government to take the steps to make mental health a priority in our country, many of us continue to suffer in silence, restricted by access to resources and finances. As mothers, we can do our best to support our tribe.

Motherhood is a unique community. It’s a community where women can feel safe to share their feelings, while others can lend an ear or a shoulder to show compassion and understanding. It’s a community that has left cookies on my porch time and time again over the last year. While I’m not a therapist and unable to provide specialized help to you, I want to extend my community and help in any way I can.

Through my husband’s insurance I’ve been lucky to have access to therapy which has introduced me to some cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) tools. These tools that can help those with anxiety develop the skills and strategies to live a fuller and happier life. While these tools are most effective when used in conjunction to therapy, I’d like to provide you with worksheets to help you find some happiness.

For those who aren’t familiar with CBT, it’s a process which aims to challenge the negative thought patterns one may have about themselves or the world around them. This is done by learning to identify and question one’s own thoughts, while challenging negative emotions and behaviours. CBT often uses ‘activities’ to help in the development of tools that can be used in life – a typical course of CBT can take months to allow patients to:

  • Identify distortions in their thinking
  • See thoughts as ideas about what is going on, rather than as facts
  • Stand back from their thinking to consider situations from different viewpoints

With the CBT introduction above, you can begin exploring worksheets and activities to take control of any negative outlook that may hold you back from being happy. To help my community in this journey, I’ve decided to write weekly entries geared towards self-directed CBT. Below you’ll find the first entry in this series that seeks to help you understand and manage your anxieties and worries. These weekly entries will alternate between the introduction of new topics and the review of my ability to use the tools. CBT isn’t magic, it’s a journey – that’s why I think it’s important to talk about how these tools are used in real life every other week.

Week 1: Anxiety & Worry

 

 

We can thank evolution for anxiety and worry. Thousands of years ago, when humans lived in an ‘Immediate Return Environment‘ (when actions deliver immediate results), stress and anxiety were useful emotions because they helped us take action in the face of immediate problems.

For example: A lion appears across the plain > you feel stressed > you run away > your stress is relieved.

This is how your brain evolved to use worry, anxiety, and stress. Anxiety was an emotion that helped protect humans in an Immediate Return Environment. It was built for solving short-term, acute problems.

Today, we as a society have much more chronic stress brought on by problems that can’t be solved right nowWill I get that promotion? Will I repair my broken relationship? Do I have enough money to pay the bills each month? Our threats seem to never subside and our anxiety continues to rise.

Some exercises exist to help manage these anxious feelings. Below is an example of an activity that can help transform your anxieties from crippling to productive.

How to participate:

Set aside 15 minutes a day dedicated to worrying – this sounds easy right? I know lots of people (myself included) that spend wayyy more than 15 minutes a day worrying. The key to this exercise is to focus only 15 minutes a day to worrying – no more. Each time a worry or anxiety comes into your mind outside of that time period, write it down in the table below, acknowledge it exists, and tell your mind you will worry about it later.

Worry, I know you’re there, but right now I’m focused on playing with my son. We’ll deal with this later. 

I know this sort of mantra might sound silly but as with the mastery of all things, repetition really does work wonders; mantras also help to focus your energy away from potential anxieties.

During your worry time, fill out the rest of the below table and evaluate the situation that brought on your worry and the thoughts associated with it. Come up with some ways to make your worry productive to realize some value from the situation – you were worried for a reason right?

Situation

(describe the time and event that brought on the worry)

Worry

(what were you worried about)

Physiology

(specify how your physical body felt: tense, high BP, lower back pain, etc.)

Thoughts

(write down the thoughts which were present)

Productive Goal

(what can you do moving forward to manage this worry)

Woke up to a messy kitchen, don’t feel like I have enough time to manage my household. Worried about not having enough time. Tense. Feeling stretched too thin. Feeling unorganized and chaotic. Dedicate time each night after the kids are asleep to do a quick clean. Organize and purge on weekends.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll find out how I did managing this new tool and then we’ll follow-up with a new activity that aims directly at our own notions of self-worth.

Good luck and remember your community is there to help, you don’t have to do this alone!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Great post,

    we must work on ourselves to have a better life and to be a better people.The concern is so inherent to human beings, but it seems your methods are great 🙂

    Like

  2. Thanks for sharing these resources! Yes, I agree. Postpartum mental health issues are so prevalent and very treatable– but stigma and barriers to good help keep women from getting the treatment they need!

    Like

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